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Curiosities of ancient Rome (Other)

The world of ancient Romans abounded in a number of amazing curiosities and information. The source of knowledge about the life of the Romans are mainly works left to us by ancient writers or discoveries. The Romans left behind a lot of strange information and facts that are sometimes hard to believe.

Initium aestatis

Initium aestatis in Latin literally means “the beginning of summer” and it was not a holiday for the Romans – confirmation is the lack of such information in both Fasti Antiates Maiores, the official Roman calendar of public holidays, and in Ovid’s “Fasti”.

Forum Romanum in the summer

Precious right hand

During the time of Emperor Constantine I (born on February 27, c. 280 in Nis – present-day Serbia, died May 22, 337; Emperor from 306; during his reign, the Roman Empire was in its heyday), Athanasius the Great (born in 295 in Alexandria, of Greek origin, Patriarch of Alexandria, the most prominent saint of the Catholic Church) was accused of performing magic rituals with the use of a severed hand. That hand was to belong to the Bishop of the Meleznai sect of Thebaida – Arsenius. It was even claimed that the man was murdered in order to get the “handle”.

A synod in Tire (335) was called, with the most eminent bishops of the Empire. They were even introduced to corpus delicti (the subject of the crime), in a wooden box there was an alleged hand of Arsenius. The accusers (Egyptian clergy) were already rubbing their hands. There is evidence, and there should be punishment. Knowing what he was accused of, Athanasius ordered him to bring him, none other than Arsenius himself. Alive, too. Ba, having both hands. In the end, he replied, “Let no one seek for a third hand, for man has received two hands from the Creator and no more“.

Emperor Constantine I and Bishop of Athanasius

Alchemy in Greek and Roman times

Although medieval and ancient alchemy shares many common elements, it is difficult to find a clear continuity between the Greco-Roman and medieval traditions. One of the main differences is that the first one was based mainly on philosophical subjects and hermeticism, while the second one valued higher the experimental contact with the surrounding matter. However, was this really the case? What do we owe to the Greco-Roman alchemists? What does alchemy have to do with the monetary unification of Emperor Diocletian? The answer is in the article below.

Distillation equipment designed by Zosimos according to a Byzantine manuscript

Are you up with your left foot again?

Greco-Roman texts provide a great deal of information about the ancients’ views on religious matters, many of which refer to very mundane matters. Often the superstitions of ordinary people from two thousand years ago are present and very popular superstitions. How many people have not stood up at least once with the famous “left leg”? Or vice versa, he ascribed his happiness to his right foot, as did the Germans and the English in their proverbs (“Auf rechten Füssen ist gut stehen” tudzież “Let’s get off on the right foot this year”)?

Left foot sculpture from the 4th century BCE. The object is from Egypt

Polar bears in ancient Rome?

According to the message of Titus Calpurnius Siculus, a Roman poet from the 3rd century CE, in ancient Rome, in the arenas of amphitheatres, bears were supposed to appear hunting for seals. The writer specifically mentions here an event during the reign of Emperor Nero (54-68 CE).

Polar bear

Bugonia ritual and religious significance of bees in ancient Rome

Bees were special and peculiar to the ancients. Their presence in the myth dates back to times much earlier than Rome. They were of considerable importance in Egyptian and Minoan beliefs. Then they fascinated authors such as Publius Virgil Maro or Pliny the Elder. The bees had a divine element in them and were surrounded by a mystical aura of mystery. It is best expressed by the so-called Bugonia ritual.

Bugonia ritual from Virgil's Georgics. Lyon 1517, author unknown

Soranus – outstanding Batavian warrior

A unique epitaph has survived to our times from the tombstone of a certain Soranus – a Batavian (Germanic tribe) soldier serving in the Roman army during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE). We are not sure if the inscription was written at the request of the deceased or the emperor himself, in exchange for his merits.

Epitaph of Soranus

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